Robert Lawrence Johnston

GARDINER – Robert Lawrence Johnston (known as Logan), 69, of Gardiner, died suddenly of an apparent heart attack while on a morning walk with his wife on Sunday, May 22, 2022.

A true Renaissance man, he was equally at ease fixing a hay baler, renovating a house, discussing English literature, or playing guitar with any of the talented musicians in the area. He devoted his energies and considerable talents to bringing about positive change in his community, often working behind the scenes to make connections, help launch new ventures, raise funds, and impart wisdom, without need of any recognition.

He was born in Los Angeles on Sept. 19, 1952, the son of Robert Kirk and Joan (Doebbler) Johnston. He left the west coast after high school for a transformative year at Radley College in England. He then went on to Harvard College, where he met his wife, Phyllis, in an economics lecture. He dropped the course but never his interest in her. After graduating in 1975, he took the Radcliffe Publishing Course and joined the trade division of Little, Brown and Company, where he worked until 1982, when he and his wife moved to Gardiner, Maine. He joined George Mitchell’s Senate campaign as county coordinator for Kennebec County, making many lifelong friends, including Neil Rolde, with whom he started Harpswell Press (later Tilbury House Publishers). He published several wonderful books by Maine authors and photographers, and even a board game, So You Think You Know Maine, based on the public television show. In 1993, he transitioned to bookstore consulting until he and Phyllis launched their grass-fed beef farming operation in 2000. A self-described “over-educated and under-experienced” farmer, he learned what he needed to know with the help of great mentors Russell Libby and Pat Berends. Russell recruited him to join the board of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and, true to form, he soon became the treasurer for a 10-year stint.

He made his life’s work the betterment of this community and the stewardship of Oaklands Farm. Always one to give an energetic and deeply genuine hello to everyone on Water Street in Gardiner and Hallowell, he found every excuse to go “upstreet” to connect with his people. He was an enthusiastic lover of music, a Deadhead, and an ever-willing jam partner and supporter of the local music scene. His community will always remember him for his warm friendship, steadfast loyalty, quick wit, and magical spirit.

He was predeceased by his parents and his parents-in-law, Robert and Frances Gardiner. Logan is survived by his wife, Phyllis Gardiner of Gardiner; son Philip Johnston, daughter-in-law Katherine Johnston, and granddaughter Margot Johnston of Hallowell; brother and sister-in-law Charles and Ellen Johnston of Dallas, Texas; siblings-in-law Alison Gardiner of New York, NY, Rob and Anne Gardiner of New Orleans, La. and Georgetown, Maine, Daniel and Holly Burnes of Gardiner and Boston, Mass., and Nat and Nancy Gardiner of Brookline, Mass.; an adoring circle of friends from afar, many of whom climbed mountains with him every year in the Adirondacks; many nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-nephews, and cousins, all of whom were very dear to him; plus a large constellation of musician friends who brought such incredible joy to his life over recent decades. He also leaves innumerable dear local friends and colleagues who shared his passion and advocacy for Gardiner, as well as for organic farming.

Visiting hours will be held outside at the family farm on Wednesday, May 25, from 4 to 6 p.m., at 114 Oaklands Farm Road, Gardiner, Maine. A celebration of his life will be held at a later date.

The best way to honor Logan is to follow his example, so please get engaged in your community and actively support nonprofits doing good work. Honor the past but work to bring about a better future.

Arrangements are entrusted with Staples Funeral Home and Cremation Care, 53 Brunswick Avenue, Gardiner, Maine. Condolences, memories, and photos may be shared with the family on the obituary page of the Staples Funeral Home website, .

Donations in his memory

may be made to:

Johnson Hall, Inc. or:


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